To build institutional solidarity and esprit de corps, each Thai service component developed its own distinctive uniforms, ranking system, and insignia. Many Thai military uniforms reflected historical foreign influences. For example, most of the distinctive service uniforms were patterned on those of the United States, but lower ranking enlisted navy personnel wore uniforms resembling those of their French counterparts. The early influence of British advisers to the Thai royal court and the historical role of the military in royal pomp and ceremony contributed to the splendor of formal dress uniforms worn by high-ranking officers and guards of honor for ceremonial occasions.
The rank structures of the three armed services were similar to those of the respective branches of the United States Armed Forces, although the Thai system had fewer NCO and warrant officer designations (see unavail.asp"> fig. 18; unavail.asp"> fig. 19). The king, as head of state and constitutional head of the armed forces, personally granted all commissions for members of the officer corps. Appointments to NCO ranks were authorized by the minister of defense. In theory, the authority and responsibilities of officers of various ranks corresponded to those of their American counterparts. However, because of a perennial surplus of senior officers--in 1987 there were some 600 generals and admirals in a total force of about 273,000--Thai staff positions were often held by officers of higher rank than would have been the case in the United States or other Western military establishments.
Thai military personnel were highly conscious of rank distinctions and of the duties, obligations, and benefits they entailed. Relationships among officers of different grades and among officers, NCOs, and the enlisted ranks were governed by military tradition in a society where observance of differences in status was highly formalized. The social distance between officers and NCOs was widened by the fact that officers usually were college or military academy graduates, while most NCOs had not gone beyond secondary school. There was often a wider gap between officers and conscripts, most of whom had had even less formal education, service experience, or specialized training.
Formal honors and symbols of merit occupied an important place in the Thai military tradition, and service personnel received and wore awards and decorations with pride. The government granted numerous awards, and outstanding acts of heroism, courage, and meritorious service received prompt recognition.